Award Report - Adelheid Russenberger

Adelheid Russenberger reports on the King's College London Classics Summer School, to which the Alumnae Fund contributed.

Pick a coin. Any coin, it doesn't matter, so long as it's a standard British coin. On the face with the Queen's head, near the rim of the coin, you will find the letters ‘D·G·REG·F·D·'. The letters stand for ‘dei gratia regina fidei defensor', Latin for ‘By the Grace of God Queen Defender of the Faith'. Just one example of the continued presence of Latin in the modern Western world, despite its reputation to be a ‘dead language'.

I enrolled on the intensive King's College London Latin Summer School in preparation for starting an MA in Medieval History in October 2013. Although medieval Latin would be taught as part of the MA syllabus, I wanted to give myself a good grounding in Latin grammar before I started: my main recollections of pre-GCSE Latin were that it involved numerous declensions and cases that I'd only vaguely heard of in English, that I hadn't really seen the point of learning a difficult language that nobody spoke, and that I hadn't enjoyed it very much. Subsequent references to Latin and the Classics which I'd come across studying History of Art at A-Level and History as a university undergraduate had dispelled some of the myth that Latin was limited to the study of Ancient Rome, but as I hadn't planned to study Medieval History at Masters level, I didn't taken the opportunity to study it as an undergraduate.

Despite my prior experiences in Latin, I found the course hugely enjoyable and rewarding. The classes were lively and informative, and I soon realised how influential Latin still is. Learning the different tenses and cases reinforced how the structure of many Western languages works; the Latin vocabulary and phrases gave a sense of the roots of many modern words and phrases; and there is a certain satisfaction in being able to translate Latin inscriptions on monuments or memorials around London. If the content of the course didn't demonstrate the influence of Latin, the range of people on the course certainly did: ranging from art historians and a law student to a diplomat looking to improve his language skills, we were certainly a mixed bunch!

Learning Latin in such a short space of time was challenging, but very valuable. I found attention to grammatical detail to be vital. The intensive nature of the course meant that the focus was on learning the different tenses and constructions of clauses to enable us to translate passages: with the aid of a dictionary we could find the meaning of a word, but it was through using our new knowledge of Latin grammar that we were able to discern the position of the word within the clause. Failure to notice a couple of letters in an ending could mistranslate the passive as the active or attribute a verb to the wrong noun, changing the meaning of the phrase entirely.

The course was not limited to grammar and translations of Cicero. During the six-week period, we made two trips to the British Museum to be shown round some of the galleries and the vaults beneath the museum by expert curators, and were given seminars on papyrology and epigraphy. Within classes we also covered some of the more light-hearted elements of studying Latin, learning the rules of rugby from Asterix apud Britannica, discovering why ‘Romani ite domum', and looking over lists of ‘modern' Latin words issued by the Vatican. While knowing that ‘autocinetum locis iniquis aptum' is the Latin for ‘jeep' may not be the most useful word to know when studying Medieval history, it certainly made the summer school more entertaining! Having completed the course, I feel confident that I'll be able to make rapid progress in learning Medieval Latin as I will already have a good understanding of Latin grammar and some vocabulary, allowing me to focus on other modules in my MA.

Adelheid Russenberger, LEH 2002-2009